I ran a virtual company for ten years. It started with just me and a business partner and later evolved to a team of ten to fifteen people, all working from home and collaborating on projects.
Knowing that a lot of people are about to start working from home more, I thought I would share a few things I learned in my 10+ years of working with a virtual team.
Getting work done at home
Don’t get too comfortable
When you first start working from home, it’s tempting to work from the couch with the TV on, don’t do it. If you put yourself in the same position to work that you usually take to relax, relaxation is going to win every time. Consider working from your kitchen table (like I am right now), a desk, the patio, or some other place that is not primarily for relaxation.
Keep your usual schedule
When working from home, it’s tempting to sleep in and work late. Don’t do it. If you are used to a work schedule, keep that schedule, shifting it will make you lose productivity.
Focus intensely, then take breaks
When working from home it’s easy to work continuously with no breaks, but that’s not great for overall productivity and happiness. I love using the Pomodoro technique for focus. The technique is 25 minutes of work, then a 5-minute mental break. Then after four rounds of that, you take a 20 to 30-minute break. I love this technique because it helps me focus intensely but reminds me to take mental breaks, helping me remain productive later in the day.
Take a walk
If you are accustomed to working in an office, you are probably up and around often. When working from home, there is a tendency to get sucked into the computer and forget to stand up and move around. Set a reminder to take a quick walk in the afternoon. It will clear your head and give you some of the mobility you are missing by being at home.
Working from home with a team
Balance text with voice
When working from home, it’s easy to fire off quick emails or messages to colleagues, giving them little context. This can lead to a lot of back and forth and wasted time if you aren’t careful. It’s often best to hop on a quick call to make sure you are on the same page if it’s something important. Those quick calls also help with moral and office culture, keeping the team connected.
Use great tools
Here are my favorite tools for working with a remote team:
- Slack — for messaging individuals and groups of people rather than blowing up their inbox
- Google Meet (formerly hangouts) — for face to face communication and screen sharing
- Zoom — also great for face to face communication and (bonus) for recording podcasts
- Google Docs — amazing for real-time document collaboration with a remote team. There is something magical about running a remote meeting while everyone is looking at a Google doc.
Believe the best in your team
When you aren’t working in the same room, it’s easy to think that someone isn’t pulling their weight. Don’t think that. Choose to believe the best in your team and focus on the outcomes of their work. If they are producing the same good work as they were while in the office, that’s all that matters.
Raise your communication game
You can communicate poorly face to face and still have an understanding with someone. That isn’t true when working from home. Because you aren’t together and people can’t pick up on other cues, your communication may seem more abrupt and less detailed.
When crafting text or emails, take an extra moment to be sure you are communicating clearly. A few things that may be helpful to consider here:
- Always give context when asking a question. When you ask a question in a conversation, context is a given. But, when you text a question out of the blue with no context, it’s confusing.
- Consider the use of emojis (yes, I know, emojis) to give hints about text tone and your demeanor.
- When in doubt about communication, make a 5-minute phone call, it will save hours in the long run.
Schedule short, frequent, team calls
My team used to have a daily 10-minute call to get on the same page. It was great because it allowed us to connect, laugh, and check-in without the meeting becoming a burden. Quick team connection points are critical when working from home so no one gets lonely or left out.
I love working from home, but recognize it’s hard. It requires discipline and thoughtfulness. I encourage you not to fall into your typical “work mode,” but take a moment to consider how you are working. Reading this article is a great start. Taking a few moments each day to think about what worked and what didn’t will also be a big help.
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